Change may sometimes be hard to swallow – for fans of Paramore who have followed the band since their earliest days (as far back as 2005 when their debut, All We Know is Falling was released) up to their previous self-titled release in 2013… it is no surprise that with four years to experiment, Paramore’s sound has graduated and moved on to something unexpected. Fans of Riot!, Brand New Eyes and even the previously mentioned Paramore may find themselves a bit disappointed when they’ve realized Paramore has shed their outer skin and has taken a step back from those ‘harder’ rock days. “Misery Business” is arguably the band’s best known, as a fast-paced, hard-hitting, head-banging anthem with a similar theme for the surrounding tracks on their 2007 album. The once emo and yet rebellious band has grown up, as most of us have these days (perfect pun placement: some of us have to grow up sometimes, and so, if I have to I’m gonna leave you behind). Although, for those who learned to love Paramore – which was considered a bit of a stretch from their original sound with its funky beats, playful guitar licks, pianos and synths (such with songs like “Fast In My Car,” “Ain’t It Fun” and “Anklebiters”) – the album was a shock after the departure of two founding members and a new shift in sound, despite the rock aspect the band was known for still there, somewhere faintly heard beneath the sound and rumble of the new experimental sound. It seems as though all caution has been thrown to the wind, making After Laughter a refreshing, brand new kind of Paramore, which in our opinion may be the most genuine and sincere collection of songs in terms of sound and lyrics… and yes, we’re counting the brutal, painful honesty that so many Brand New Eyes tracks revolved around. Some fans may be quick to label them as sell-outs, but we’re interpreting this pop-gold as something deeper. Could this change be Paramore’s biggest rebellion yet? We’re almost certain it is, and with that, we dare to say, After Laughter just may be the band’s biggest success thus far too.
After Laughter is the band’s first release with original drummer Zac Farro since his departure from the band in late 2010. If this doesn’t excite you in the least bit… we’re sorry. There have always been accusations surrounding Paramore (the painful ‘break-up letter’ written by guitarist Josh Farro upon his departure, the legal battle that came when bassist Jeremy Davis left in 2016) that once painted the group as ‘Hayley Williams and some other lesser-important dudes’ though After Laughter proves and puts to shame the naysayers. The incredible talent surrounding the percussion alone on this album would never have been possible without Farro’s return alongside guitarist/instrumentalist Taylor York (although we’re sure Hayley and a number of other friends outstretched a helping hand). Paramore has followed in a direction many artists have flirted with towards the beloved and playful ‘80s pop. Though, so few artists have pulled off the resurrected sound as well as Paramore has in their newest release.
Despite the obvious lack of that in-your-face rockstar energy, there is a new energy bubbling from After Laughter that draws in the listener from the album’s first track and single, “Hard Times.” Frontwoman Hayley William’s voice has always been incomparably strong. Her voice can be pushed to the limit, hitting high notes most others can only squeak out and back down to the baritones, bass, and contralto without losing any of its clarity and strength. After Laughter will take you through a journey – we can only imagine some of the band’s influences towards the lyrics in a few of the tracks, with yet again another publicized lineup change – while most songs sound upbeat and happy, the darker lyrics (see the chorus in “Rose-Colored Boy,” “Idle Worship,” and “Forgiveness”) tease with a reoccurring theme of wanting to stay sad if you want to, ignoring the pressure of a happier lifestyle, growing up and ultimately deciding for yourself the person you want to be.
Another obvious change is the aesthetic shift leaning towards the ‘80s pop and the popular new wave electronica that can be heard in nearly each track, fitting in place with pieces and memories of a younger, adored version of Paramore. Even the bright colors have returned – who remembers back to the early Riot!days when Paramore played Warped Tour in matching red pants? We’re talking 10 years ago. As previously mentioned, After Laughter is not the first time Paramore have dipped their toes in a new current. “Ain’t It Fun” was the perfect blend between the ‘original’ Paramore in their recognizable identity while floating towards a new direction in sound. How exactly do you follow up the Grammy-awarded track? Paramore seems to know exactly how. The self-titled album seems to have been a bridge between the old and new, though the sugary-sweet hooks and bouncy, playful synths can’t fool us into believing all of Paramore’s worries are behind them. At a glance and superficial, inattentive listen, the album seems all sunshine, rainbows, and puppy dogs. Though there is an unmistakable seriousness to the lyrics in the album, although we’re almost certain it is meant to be brushed off a shoulder and forgiven if the real message blows over your head due to being swept up in just how much fun the album is to sing and dance along to. There is almost a sense of inspirational emotional release in Williams’ bold and honest frustrations, the futile optimism, anxiety and all-around unforgiving angst yet defiantly happy theme that has been such a success for Paramore throughout the years. It is an album with a message, in the simplest terms – when the going gets tough, the tough get going – to encourage us all to smile in times of absolute despair, the fight-back kicking and screaming sentiment being a reoccurring one for some time with Paramore.
Since the release, the band has taken to social media to express that with After Laughter comes a sense of pride they have yet to reach as a band. We can only imagine the conversations leading up to the return of original drummer Zac Farro and relocating the dynamic that made you so desperate to be a band in the first place. Track-by-track from the very beginning “Hard Times” is an immediate attention-grabber with its retro tropical club vibes and it’s paired neon/pastel colored music video with doodles and overlays that take us back to the “Saved By The Bell” opening credits. Whether you interpret Williams’ chant as “And I got to get to rock bottom” or the argued “Not gonna get to rock bottom” — the message stays the same in proving that even through hard times, somehow against all odds, you’ll still survive.
“Rose-Colored Boy” is our personal favorite off the album. Why? From the opening cheerleader-like chants in the beginning to the infectious chorus with lyrics “Just let me cry a little bit longer / I ain’t gon’ smile if I don’t want to / Hey man, we all can’t be like you / I wish we were all rose-colored too…” we dare you to not get this upbeat hit stuck in your head. Our guess? When Paramore’s self-titled was released, Williams eventually admitted the heartfelt “Hate To See Your Heart Break” was written for none other than guitarist Taylor York – if we had to give our expert opinion, we’d place a bet on Hayley admitting in the future that this track is also about the optimistic Taylor York who has always been seen shedding light on even the darkest Paramore days.
“Told You So” was released as the band’s second single before the album was fully released — featuring a music video with the trio in matching red getups and a car ride full of “what the heck is going on?” moments. The song itself begins with the hard-hitting lyrics “For all I know / The best is over and the worst is yet to come” which tip-toes to the previously mentioned hardships Paramore has publicly faced with the change in band members over the years. The song then leds into a repeated chant-like “Throw me into the fire / Throw me in, pull me out again” which we hope was an intentional reference to a phoenix-esque new beginning, meaning even if Paramore are burned and thrown into a fire, they’ll be pulled out whole and anew and better than ever before as shown with After Laughter.
It’s hard to speculate who exactly “Forgiveness” could be about even with the loss in band members. The song itself is a bit softer than the previous on the record, and while the song talks about being unable to forgive someone just yet, there is a heartbreaking lyrics that begins the second verse, “There’s still a thread that runs from your body to mine / you can’t break what you don’t see, an invisible line” giving a love-song type feel to this emotional track that leaves it haunting and resonates even after you’ve gone on and listened to the rest of the album.
“Fake Happy” is the anthem our generation was waiting for. The track begins with a washed-out sounding Hayley Williams and an acoustic, slow, toe-tapping washroom recording that sounds similar to the interludes included in the band’s prior release. The song is just as you’d imagine, about making everyone believe you’re as happy as you seem even though you’re just pretending. The playful lyrics include a line we can all relate to: “And if I go out tonight, dress up my fears / You think I’ll look alright with these mascara tears?” which gives a nod back to Paramore’s emo days but in all reality, they hit the nail on the head with this one and everyone’s facade of being blissfully happy.
“26” may be the softest track on the record, but the meaning is anything but. The emotional lyrics repeat the lines “Hold onto hope if you got it / Don’t let it go for nobody / They say that dreaming is free / I wouldn’t care what it costs me” – it is a perfectly placed track amidst all the higher-tempo bubbly numbers, though the uniqueness shines through, reminding us of the unforgettable tracks on previous released, “Last Hope” and “When It Rains.”
It wouldn’t quite be a Paramore album without a skillfully written love song in disguise. “Pool” plays the part with ease, the entire song embodying that feeling of being underwater and just seconds away from drowning… the overwhelmingness that comes hand-in-hand with falling in love… and despite feeling like you might die, if you survive, you willingly dive back in. “I’m underwater with no air in my lungs / My eyes are open, I’m done giving up / You are the wave I could never tame / If I survive, I’ll dive back in.”
“Grudges” appears to follow in the footsteps of earlier angst tracks such as “Playing God” or “Brick By Boring Brick” with a happier ending as Hayley sings the questions of if her faults are being recounted and who in the party has changed. The final verse begins “And if you wanna call me up or come over / Come on we’ll laugh til we cry / Like we did when we were kids” does this hint we’ll see original lead guitarist Josh Farro return alongside brother and band mates? Possibly. Or it could be about any number of fall-outs the band has faced, including Zac’s own return.
“Caught In The Middle” is a slower tempo, yet just as enthusiastic number that mimics the theme of day dreaming and facing reality and being stuck in some place between. The hook “No I don’t need no help / I can sabotage me by myself / Don’t need no one else / I can sabotage me by myself” is guaranteed fun as it begs to be screamed along to… and I’m sure fans will agree that we can’t wait for the chance once Paramore hits the road.
“Idle Worship” has already been catching a lot of praise from Paramore fans who were quick to check this number off as their favorite. Hayley’s voice comes off rushed and playful as she sings “Don’t hold your breath, I never said I’d save you, honey” and urges the listenter to put their faith in something more. This track is dripping with remnants from Brand New Eyes as the lyrics point out flaws and inevitable falls from pedestals in such a personal way, it’s hard not to fall in love even with such pushing-away lyrics.
“No Friend” continues the theme of hating to let someone down. The song itself begins with several minutes of a repeated riff with spoken words from Aaron Weiss that are begged to be read as we struggle to hear him over the hypnotic instrumental. What can be heard clearly? “I’m no savior of yours / You’re no friend of mine.” The track almost seems unfitting with the rest of the album, but we’re hoping the energetic speech gets used as a new intro/outro on tour.
“Tell Me How” closes out the album with a piano and a raw, less-touched up version of Hayley’s chilling vocals. The song picks up pace with the chorus “Tell me how to feel about you now / Oh, let me know / Do I suffocate or let go?” It is the perfect end to an album with such a powerful message of new beginnings, the end of friendships, forgiveness and rekindling relationships. The final words are a spoken verse in a washed-out far-away echo where Hayley says “You don’t have to tell me / I can still believe” – leaving hope for us all.
Overall, we may have been surprised with Paramore’s change in sound, but it was a pleasant one. We’ve given the album several listen-throughs and with each, we find more details to love. Is it safe to say we give it a 10/10? What about you guys? Love it or hate it? Let us know.